Ai Weiwei’s latest large scale Lego artwork for Design Museum London asks us to question beauty and reality

Water Lilies #1, 2022, by Ai Weiwei. Lego bricks. Photo © Ela Bialkowska/OKNO studio. © Image courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua

‘In Water Lilies #1, I integrate Monet’s Impressionist painting, reminiscent of Zenism in the East, and concrete experiences of my father and me into a digitised and pixelated language,’ explains Ai Weiwei of his latest and largest Lego artwork based on the painter’s Water Lilies (1914-26) and created for Design Museum London to coincide with Ai Weiwei: Making Sense, the artist’s biggest UK show in eight years.

He continues, ‘Toy bricks as the material, with their qualities of solidity and potential for deconstruction, reflect the attributes of language in our rapidly developing era where human consciousness is constantly dividing.’

Depicting the lily pond and garden at his home in Giverny, Normandy, Water Lilies beautifully captures nature’s serene beauty. And by choosing Monet’s painting, but then working with cold plastics and standard colours, Ai wants us to challenge our notion of reality and beauty.

Ai Weiwei's latest large scale Lego artwork, based in Monet's Water Lilies for Design Museum London asks us to question beauty and reality.
Detail from Water Lilies #1, 2022,by Ai Weiwei. Lego bricks. Photo © Ela Bialkowska/OKNO studio. © Image courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua

And to add to the disorientation, on the right-hand side sits a dark portal, representing the door to the underground dugout in Xinjiang province where the young artist and his father, one of China’s most renowned poets, Ai Qing, were forced to live in exile in the 1960s. It forms a stark contrast to the waterlily paradise that dominates the scene.

‘Our world is complex and collapsing towards an unpredictable future,’ says Ai. ‘It’s crucial for individuals to find a personalised language to express their experience of these challenging conditions. Personalized expression arises from identifying with history and memories while creating a new language and narrative. Without a personal narrative, artistic narration loses its quality.’

At over 15m long and made from nearly 650,000 studs of Lego bricks in 22 colours, Water Lilies #1 will span the entire length of one of the walls in the Design Museum gallery in London when it goes on exhibition next month.

Ai Weiwei: Making Sense is at the Design Museum London from April 7 to July 30, 2023.

What is the role of a design museum Today? Tim Marlow, Design Museum director discusses

Ahead of his exhibition this spring, artist Ai Weiwei poses outside London’s Design Museum
Photography © Rick Pushinsky/Design Museum

As the director of the Design Museum in London, Tim Marlow is on a mission to transform the institution into a lively space that examines and showcases all sorts of different idea, and from multiple perspectives.

I met up with Marlow at the west London museum to see what the former Royal Academy of Arts director has in mind for a museum dedicated to contemporary design.

During our long conversation he said: “I’d like to get to a position where I can raise enough funding so we can be the museum that examines and showcases all sorts of different ideas. We are the national design museum and should be doing this.”

Read the full interview here